Commissioner Mariya Gabriel sees a growing sense of community in EuroHPC exascale initiative

19 Apr 2018 Sofia - At the Bulgarian Presidency event on "Shaping Europe's Digital Future - HPC for Extreme Scale Scientific and Industrial Applications" in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 19, 2018,Primeur Magazinehad the opportunity to talk to Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, about the recent EuroHPC developments, and basically three issues in particular: 'What has been achieved during the past year?'; 'Where are we now?'; and 'Where will we be in one year?'

Mariya Gabriel:The first thing I would like to bring in mind is the Digital Day that took place in Rome, Italy, on March 23, 2017 where it was decided to build for the first time a European HPC community. Now, one year later, the dream is becoming reality. The European Commission has proposed a budget of 1 billion euro to finance the next developments for petaflop, pre-exascale and exascale machines: 486 million euro is coming from the European Commission; the rest is coming from the Member States that participate in EuroHPC. Today, there are 16 countries that have signed the declaration: 15 Member States and Switzerland.

The European Commission also has proposed to start a Joint Undertaking. This is a legal instrument that will allow to make public offers and have members participate by following criteria that are clear for everyone. Currently, parallel discussions are happening both at the level of the European Council and the European Parliament. At the European Council, things are really turning out in a positive way. The Bulgarian Presidency has put the topic high on the agenda and the European Council will adopt its position accordingly. With regard to the European Parliament, there is confidence by the reporting body that it will adopt its position on a very short term.

Once the legal instrument has been put into place, it will be important to see a real investment starting to concretize itself. At that point, we can initiate a collaboration between all the participants to set up the first initiatives to build the machine and the software and to respond to the ambition to have the pre-exascale ready in 2020 and the exascale in 2023. For the exascale, we will have a machine built with European technology and we will also build a number of petaflop machines.

So, after barely one year, we can show that the topic is high on the political agenda. To have the set ambitions fulfilled it is important to have a legal instrument in place in order to realize what has been planned. There is yet another crucial stage in the process that one might not think of spontaneously. In May 2018, we are going to have some intense debates about the budget of the next budget of the European Union. It is important and I have asked to get significant increase to be on the map worldwide and be among the three greatest powers in HPC, which is not the case today. We need to have the necessary funding to for the first time set up a dedicated digital programme to reach specific goals based on five axes. One of these axes is high performance computing.

Primeur Magazine:For the next Framework Programma, is there already an idea about the size of the budget for high performance computing?

Mariya Gabriel:Each person who suggests numbers at this point could find him- or herself disappointed with the final result. This is part of a central investment that clearly shows that no individual Member State alone can face this challenge. No single Member State on its own can guarantee the necessary funding and dispose of the entire HPC infrastructure and software to realize this ambition. It is a European ambition and we are taking concrete steps now. It would be a pity to not have a vision that goes beyond 2023, to have a vision that would just stop there. On the contrary, this vision has to reach out to 2027/2028. This will allow us to create projects for the European citizen which is a priority and to sustain the industrial enterprises that are now the European champions. We do not have too many of them. We need to launch a message for the future and to the international partners that the data and the capacity to extract value out of this data has to function based on European values: that is of capital importance.

Primeur Magazine:Since the countries are contributing, they, of course, also want to have their say.

Mariya Gabriel:That is why we have this legal instrument in which there is a Governing Board (representatives of the public members) and the Industrial and Scientific Advisory Board. The European Commission is also participating in it. The decisions will really be taken with full knowledge of the issues involved. It will be the best instrument possible.

Primeur Magazine:Because it is Europe, each country has its own priorities. What are these priorities? We heard Thierry Breton who said that we need a processor because without this processor, we are lost. Other countries may think differently.

Mariya Gabriel:In the case of high performance computing, there is a growing sense of community. This constitutes a priority. We are conscious that there are components. We will not have a machine that will appear out of nowhere. That is why we have focused on the different components. The new European Processor Initiative is essential. That is why the European Commission has engaged itself to it but that is also why the Joint Undertaking has to be in place as soon as possible to support the industrial enterprises. They have the expertise and know what has to be done. The European Commission proposes to listen to them in order to take the steps towards a very clear political objective which is to build pre-exascale and exascale machines with European technology.

Primeur Magazine:Within the coming year, the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking should be formed as an organisation. We understand that there will be an office in Luxembourg.

Mariya Gabriel:We have the experience of Joint Undertakings. That is why we have chosen an instrument that we know and that is simple to put into place. We don't have any time to loose. If we were to put an instrument into place that would take us more than a year to establish, the other HPC partners in China, Japan and the United States would not wait for us in the meanwhile. That is why the European Commission has proposed to the Member States an instrument that is really very simple and where the conditions are already functioning. There is no reason whatsoever to let it take more time than is reasonable.

Primeur Magazine:When will the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking be starting?

Mariya Gabriel:In the positive scenario we will have the finalisation of the procedure in June 2018 and we could start in September or October 2018 with the real work for the definition of the procedures and the budgets since the criteria are very clear. At this moment, it is impossible to give more precise details. If the Council and Parliament express their final positions in June, one can start in September or October with the work.

Primeur Magazine:The countries changed their policy in the sense that they adapted their politics and are very much in favour of EuroHPC. They adapted their national HPC programmes too.

Mariya Gabriel:Not all Member States, yet. It suffices to say that at this moment, there are 16 countries. So, we are not at 27 or 28 Member States yet. EuroHPC is now a priority for us, so it is expected that other Member States will join the initiative. Currently, there are no members that represent the Baltic states or the countries in Northern Europe. The efforts are now centered to have these countries join as well. It is a question of having them understand that the initiative will benefit them in terms of security for example, and for their industrial enterprises tremendously. This is a challenging task.

For the Member States that have already signed up, we observe a very positive change with greater attention for the needs in research and financing, and more coordination between researchers and industry. This has a very positive impact but we still are faced with two phases: Member States that have joined and others that haven't. Joining has a concrete impact for the people and allows to create a vision that offers an advance to those that are participating. That is why I would like all Member States to join in an initiative that is so strategic for Europe. When I became European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, there were 7 Member States. Now, there are 16. We hope to reach another nine to join in the coming months. I expect to receive still other good news in the very near future to turn EuroHPC into a real European initiative.

Primeur Magazine:Thank you very much for the interview.
Ad Emmen